Monday, April 07, 2008

Seven clean days

Still making my way through the Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature. Very good article by Yaakov Elman placing Rabbinic Judaism in the context of Persian culture. Essentially, he is making a couple of interesting points that I was not aware of. One is he is pointing out the similarities between Zoroastrianism and Judaism which I was not previously aware of. I knew that a lot of the demonology and angel-related stuff came from Zoroastrianism, but I was not aware that Zoroastrianism was heavily focused on the concept of ritual impurity (tum'a). Like Judaism, there was a concept of tum'at met (from corpses), tum'at nevelah (from dead animals) and niddah (from menstruating women). As a matter of fact, the stringencies of niddah were much stricter for Zoroastrians. Menstruating women had to retire to a windowless hut. Elman's theory is that the notion of "seven clean days", whereupon the women took up this stringency to remain niddah, may have come from the fact that compared to Zoroastrianism, Judaism seemed lax, and so the entire populace, Rabbis and common folk, felt that adding that stringency would make us "compete" in the religious marketplace (in terms of the image of Judaism). Nobody wanted to be "outfrummed" by the Persians.

Another interesting fact is that like Judaism, Zoroastrianism also had a ancient oral tradition, over a millenium old. Both the Rabbis and the Magi had to defend the authority of the oral tradition against religions such as Manichaeism, which tried to play it down. As a matter of fact, the writing down of the Talmud, and the Avestas(Zoroastrian holy writings) happened about the same time and may have been motivated by this same competition with Manichaeism.

Overall, this article was quite enlightening. I remember how blown away I was when I found out that the sacrificial cult of Ugarit was almost identical to the Biblical order of sacrifices. In many ways, this article was just as illuminating in it's drawing of parallels between Zoroastrian and Jewish beliefs and practices.

25 Comments:

Blogger Lubab No More said...

I've often wondered where the seven clean days came from. If this is true, and if Zoroastrianism could be considered "avodah zarah", I wonder if keeping an extra seven days might qualify as idol worship!

April 07, 2008 9:16 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Based on this essay, I would doubt that the Rabbis in Babylonia would consider Zoroastrianism AZ. Conceptually, the religions are extremely similar. I already described the similarities in ritual aspects, the notion of an ancient oral tradition. There is also the notion of good and evil, a messiah and olam haba, resurrection. All these are present in Zoroastrianism. There is no explicit worship of idols.

This essay claims that there were two groups of rabbis in Babylonia. The ones that lived near the capital were rich and urban and very comfortable with Persian culture, going as far as visiting a Zoroastrian temple to engage in interfaith dialogue in front of the king. The more rural rabbis were not as accomodationist towards the Persians.

April 07, 2008 9:44 PM  
Blogger Baal Habos said...

Who'd a thunk?

Very interesting.

April 08, 2008 4:51 AM  
Blogger Baal Habos said...

Actually, see here - http://www.avesta.org/vendidad/vd5sbe.htm

It's like the Mishna Brurah; lehavdil elef alfei falafel.

April 08, 2008 5:09 AM  
Blogger -suitepotato- said...

If you consider the importance placed on controlling female genitalia, you can pretty much see idol worship already exists.

One of the interesting things about these parallels is that Zoroastrianism almost certainly got a kick start much earlier when at the end of the previous ice age and the rising of the oceans, some people in what would later be western India went on the move...

I am very much interested in how a major shift in the environment that happens with or without us affects us as a species and interwoven cultures. What might our religious life be in another 10,000 years?

April 08, 2008 11:21 AM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

Persia is unknown to the Torah and yet demons were not known to it. Zoroaster was Persian a Persian heretical prophet whose faith became adopted by it later. The basis of Judaism cannot have lay in Zoroaster.

April 08, 2008 12:41 PM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

Persia is unknown to the Torah and yet demons were not known to it. Zoroaster was Persian a Persian heretical prophet whose faith became adopted by it later. The basis of Judaism cannot have lay in Zoroaster.

April 08, 2008 12:41 PM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

Whoops meant to say "Persia is unknown to the Torah and YET demons were not UNKNOWN to it.

April 08, 2008 12:43 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

suitepotato,


not sure what you mean about genitalia and idol worship, but the niddah hut had to do with cultic purity, much like in Judaism.

April 08, 2008 2:12 PM  
Blogger Baal Habos said...

RG > Meant to say "Persia is unknown to the Torah and YET demons were not UNKNOWN to it.

That all depends on when P & D were written.

April 08, 2008 2:18 PM  
Blogger evanstonjew said...

There is a short essay of Elman's on line that is a companion piece and worth reading for it's own sake.

http://www.printingthetalmud.org/essays.html

April 08, 2008 2:37 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

ej,

merci beaucoup!

April 08, 2008 3:07 PM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

"Baal Habos said...
RG > Meant to say "Persia is unknown to the Torah and YET demons were not UNKNOWN to it.

That all depends on when P & D were written."

If that's true then the list of the Nations of the World in Bereishis should have included Persia. Also the boundaries of Canaan conform to those under Ramsees treaty with the Hittites. This was before the Persians. As for P and D there isn't proof for P and as for D we only have proof that someone wrote Deuteronomy whatever the contents so that's D by definition.

April 08, 2008 4:16 PM  
Anonymous Rabban Gamliel said...

According to the chronology I read Zoroaster would have had to have a hurried career to have influenced the Jews before their Temple would fall. Perhaps Zoroaster would have had to start his career as a child yet. My how little time for fun to adopt his rules would have been at best, not even a century.

April 08, 2008 4:47 PM  
Blogger dbs said...

e-k,

The Zoroastians are an great theory, but there are plenty of common sense reasons why women would adopt the extra week of abstinance.

b'h,
It's like the Mishna Brurah; lehavdil elef alfei falafel.

Facinating. It reads like a composite of gemarah and divrei hayamim.

April 10, 2008 1:41 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

dbs - you are alive! How can you show up on my blog the day after I finally take you off my blog-roll!

I guess I'll have to put you back on? How about a couple of posts to make up for the long absence?

Do you want to elaborate on the reasons?

April 10, 2008 1:56 PM  
Blogger Miri said...

I was always under the impresseion that Zoroastrianism was another one of those break-off-from-Judaism religions. Maybe bc they had a Jewish following in Israel? All I really remember is learning about Rabbinical liturgy that stressed certain practices to emphasize that we were NOT Zoroasterians.
Out of curiosity, why does it still surprise people that religions are similar to each other? Especially religions which were practiced in the same time/place? Wouldn't it be stranger if they weren't similar?

April 11, 2008 6:41 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

I am pretty sure Z is not a spin-off from Judaism. I also don't know of a time when there was a huge following in Israel. In Babylonia, yes.

>why does it still surprise people that religions are similar to each other

I think it is because most Orthodox Jews believe that the details of the religion, i.e. the sacrificial cult, the laws of purity, etc. were mandated by God. Often when the reasons are not clear, we say that Gods laws are inscrutable to us. When you find out that other religions have the same rituals and ascribe them to their gods, one interpetation of this is to assume that these rules were not divine in origin.

April 11, 2008 7:03 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

E-K
"also don't know of a time when there was a huge following in Israel. In Babylonia, yes."

I think i meant the people of Israel, ie the Jewish community. I'm pretty sure there was...I'd have to verify though.

"When you find out that other religions have the same rituals and ascribe them to their gods, one interpetation of this is to assume that these rules were not divine in origin."

Sure. Another could be, "hey, they all lived in the same time/place. Maybe they simply borrowed things from one culture to another." They could easily have been borrowing from Judaism at least as much if not more so than Judaism borrowing from them - which, incidentally, would be no reflection at all on the divinity of the origin of those laws.

April 12, 2008 11:51 AM  
Blogger Baal Habos said...

Miri,
>." They could easily have been borrowing from Judaism at least as much if not more so than Judaism borrowing from them - which, incidentally, would be no reflection at all on the divinity of the origin of those laws.

Sure, but once it's no longer unique, it's unsettling for many who believed that "we were different" than the people's around us. Another example, is archaeological evidence that refraining from pork was a common practice in ANE, even outside of Israel. And the list goes on, for example circumcision was practiced in Egypt.

And let's examine the seven clean days further. Assume it orginated with the Jews divinely. Why would another people adopt it, if they did not adopt the Jew's God? Just to make life difficult for themselves?

April 12, 2008 6:20 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

>Sure. Another could be, "hey, they all lived in the same time/place. Maybe they simply borrowed things from one culture to another." They could easily have been borrowing from Judaism at least as much if not more so than Judaism borrowing from them - which, incidentally, would be no reflection at all on the divinity of the origin of those laws.

Modern scholars believe that Zoroastrianism started around 10th century BCE in Eastern Iran or Central Asia. By the time Jews would have had contact with Zoroastrianism, it was a major religion in Persia. I don't believe that it is likely that Zoroastrians borrowed Jewish practice.

April 12, 2008 7:37 PM  
Blogger Miri said...

BHB-
Eh. As to uniqueness....I don't know. I guess some people care, but it's really hard for me to.
And as to the seven clean days; maybe they adopted it bc it made sense. For example, they didn't have tampons and pads the way we do, and menstruating women had to spend a good deal of time sitting on straw bc it was absorbant. It is not atypical for a women to bleed for about seven days, and there is sometimes discharge for a couple of days after. If you can't function while this is happening bc you have to be sitting on straw, setting a particular amount of days for women to get clean without having to deal with individual particulars, might just make a lot of practical sense.

E-Kvetcher-
Fine. But then it is just as unlikely that Judaism was borrowing from Zoroastrianism. So what exactly is the point?

April 13, 2008 4:34 AM  
Blogger Baal Habos said...

Miri, you may choose not to care. But uniqueness could have been used as a tool for outreach. Such as: If it's not divine who in their right mind would do XYZ. Non-uniqueness allows for, or even encourages, an evolutionary theory of religion. The non-uniqueness forces a natural explanation on the phenomenon, just as you did with the seven clean days and the ZA's. While the question may linger as to which culture did the biorrowing, it almost doesn't make a difference. You proved there is a tangible (or even imagined) physical benefit to seven clean days.

April 13, 2008 5:55 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

BHb-
"Such as: If it's not divine who in their right mind would do XYZ."

Only, apparently everyone was doing it. So how is that an argument?

April 14, 2008 5:23 AM  
Blogger Baal Habos said...

Miri, I don't follow.

If a religion has something that's unique and has no apparent benefit, it's easier to claim that it's divine. But if everyone was doing it, not just the jews, it's easier to use that self imposed hardwhip as a sign of divinity. If the behaviour is widespread (not eating pork, sheva Nekiim, circumcision) it's more difficult to claim divinity.

For example, Shmittah, that's still a good one. (I haven't researched it, though).

April 14, 2008 6:53 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home